The consent of the loser

One of the best speeches of a candidate conceding electoral victory to his rival was that of Senator John McCain in 2008. America had just elected its first ever black President. It was close to midnight on voting day November 4, after a gruelling campaign season that lasted several months. Of course, not all votes were counted by midnight. Actually it always takes days or weeks to get a tally of all the votes, since they come by mail, from overseas, from military personnel posted in remote locations. But a concession speech is given much before the counting is done. A mature, experienced leader can see the writing on the wall, no matter how bitter the contest, and how close the result. McCain was such a man. As a naval officer he had fought in the Vietnam War, and suffered torture as a prisoner for six years. Yet his later life showed no bitterness, and in fact he was part of the effort to restore diplomatic relations with Vietnam. His life was dedicated to public service, as a core member of the Republican Party, and as people’s representative for more than three decades. It is worth recalling the words he said on that night. “The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly. A little while ago, I had the honour of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love. In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans, who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president, is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.” Obama and McCain were opponents, not enemies.

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